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They’re mean, they’re green and being caught by the umpteen

October 18, 2017
Roy Murphy, a Newfoundland and Labrador fisher, is on a mission to rid Placentia Bay, NL of invasive green crabs. Photo: Vale Archive
These green crabs are eating up the razor clams, whelks and scallops in Placentia Bay, NL. Photo: Vale Archive
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Roy Murphy is seeing green. The Newfoundland and Labrador fisher removes between 2,000 to 3,000 green crabs from Long Harbour on an average day.

Roy collects these invasive species in his pots (also called traps) and either dispatches them or donates them to local farmers who use them for fertilizer.

His goal is to help eradicate green crabs from his part of Placentia Bay, and to assist with a research project being done by Memorial University’s Marine Institute, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Vale, to examine the crustaceans and figure out how best to eliminate them from our waters.

“About 15 years ago, when I had a scallop licence, I went to the estuary in Long Harbour and saw lots of empty razor clams and whelks and scallops – it was like a war zone of shellfish,” said Roy, who lives in Long Harbour and started fishing with his dad when he was 12, almost 50 years ago. “Then I saw these little green things crawling around the bottom. I put my dip net in and pulled out a couple, and – lo and behold – they were green crabs.”

Roy knew that the invasive species had been sighted in Placentia Bay, and had been in Canada since the 1950s, but he’d never seen them, nor the destruction they can wreak, so close to home. According to Jared Saunders, environmental supervisor at our Long Harbour Processing Plant, it is thought that these crabs came via the ballast water of oil ships that were travelling to the oil refinery. As one of the local fishers who has developed a relationship with Vale over the years, Roy was the perfect person to help with this project, by collecting crabs for research and ridding the harbour of them while he was at it. “He has become somewhat of an expert in catching these little rascals,” Jared noted.

The life of the harbour is important to Vale, so getting involved with the green crab project was a natural fit. The company has help finance some of the fishing gear used by community members to catch crabs and is supporting the multi-year project in other ways, too.

“We have a fishery liaison committee because we have ships and an effluent outflow line that goes out to the harbour,” said Jared, who has worked for Vale since 2014 and holds a PhD in environmental science. “Myself, as chair of the fishery liaison committee, and a couple of other Vale employees meet with the local fishers a couple times a year to keep up a strong relationship with the community. If they have an issue to discuss or if they want to commend us on something, they have a way to formally communicate it.”

The informal communication between Jared and people like Roy is invaluable, too.

“If something is happening in the harbour, my phone rings right away,” Jared said.  “It gives us a direct line of communication with members of the local community.

In early September, Jared accompanied Roy on a green crab retrieval expedition, observing as Roy pulled about 2,500 crabs from 10 pots he’d set in the harbour only the day before. Some were sent to the green crab project researchers, and most were given to local organic farmers as a form of fertilizer. Roy figures that for every female with eggs that he removes from the ocean, he prevents another 1,500 crabs from entering the ecosystem. And every time he removes a large male crab, he’s preventing the further fertilization of females.

“I just catch them because I hate them,” he said, noting that Long Harbour lobster is almost non-existent and the scallop fishery is gone because of the green crabs. “I’ll never give up. I don’t know if I’ll eradicate the species, but I’m going to keep trying!”

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